Stop the Pain: How to Avoid Self Medicating in Times of Grief

HopeXchange is proud to welcome guest poster Alice Munday. Alice is a freelance writer from Virginia Beach, Virginia. In recovery herself, she is dedicated to helping those who struggle with addiction.

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How To Avoid Self-Medicating In Times Of Grief

Of all the emotions we feel as humans, grief is among the most powerful and complex. The death of a loved one, divorce, job loss, and any number of other unexpected negative experiences can lead to times of sorrow during which feeling better seems like a downright impossibility. At low points like this, it is important to be conscious of behaviors that will be constructive and those that will actively undermine the healing process.  Self-medicating is undoubtedly one of the most potentially devastating behaviors for getting through periods of anguish. Using alcohol, drugs, or other means to self-medicate during harrowing times lures people in by offering relief with the cruel twist of it only being temporary and actually counteractive to coming to peace with traumatic events. To avoid going down this path, it is helpful to keep these things in mind.

Let Yourself Experience All Your Feelings

The pain of loss is a difficult thing to experience, but not going through the entire cycle of mourning makes you more likely to turn to unsafe coping mechanisms later on. It is vital to experience and express the emotions you feel and deal with grief adequately. Quickly replacing the loss with a substitute or even refusing to attribute your despair to its true source are telltale signs that you may be trying to accelerate the cycle.

Be Aware Of Grief Triggers 

As you work through your feelings, you can make the process easier for yourself if you identify and avoid things that you know will cause you to feel more extreme distress. There are several common factors that can elicit these feelings. When dealing with the loss of a loved one, for example, anniversaries of their passing or missing them during the holidays can easily bring on a wave of emotion. Similarly, being the same age as someone when they passed or certain places, smells, and rituals with strong connections to that person can all be challenging to face. Acknowledging what specific things trigger you can help you explore productive and healthy ways to deal with them.

Reach Out For Social Support

Friends and family can often show up in droves when a traumatic event first happens but then gradually fade back into the woodwork when you would still benefit from their presence. Identify the people who you can turn to at any time and who will help you whenever you need it. It can also be worth it to find a support group with other people going through a similar, specific grieving process so you can help each other along the way with an underlying empathy and understanding that you may not be able to find elsewhere.  Honor The Loss With Something Productive 

One of the hardest parts of going through periods of suffering is toeing the line between honoring a significant loss while also moving on with your own life without feeling guilty. Figuring out a way to pay homage with an activity that is productive for you can help you strike that balance.

Postpone Major Lifestyle Changes

Making big decisions in the wake of a traumatic event can lead to additional stress and anxiety that can prove to be too much to handle. If possible, delay making any major changes like moves, job changes, and other similar things until you know that you are ready to handle the added burden.

Seek Professional Help If Needed

If you have already found yourself turning to self-medicating measures, it helps to find a professional solution to help you as soon as you can. Integrated treatments for grief and substance abuse take a two-pronged approach and treat you both medically and therapeutically with detoxing and therapy. Achieving sobriety is the priority, and then a therapist can help you move through the underlying causes of your grief to avoid a relapse.  Grief can feel so overwhelming and unique to you that it can be difficult to find ways through it without turning to self-medicating, but there are always ways you can find respite without endangering your health. You are never alone, and people and places to help are never too far away.

 

 

 

Pure Happiness

In the middle of a challenging and frustrating week, I received the most amazing news. After two very difficult losses that caused a strain on an otherwise heathy marriage, a longtime reader had her miracle baby. I am overwhelmed with joy for this brave mother and father who had the courage to try again, and received the greatest gift – a healthy baby boy.

Completely caught up in the many stresses of my life, I felt a peaceful joy in looking at the pictures of this much-loved new life. I found myself going back to the pictures when I needed a lift because I couldn’t stop myself from grinning ear to ear when I looked at them.

I was reminded that the important things in life are often quiet the ones – not the blaring noises of my unhappy co-workers, my “stacked to the ceiling” laundry room or my overflowing “to-do” list. The pure happiness I felt when I looked at that little baby’s beautiful face is what I need to focus on. Laundry room…you’re out of luck.

“In Motion” or Emotion? How Men and Women Grieve Differently

 Men and women often find themselves feeling alone during grief because nature (and society) has equipped us to handle it so differently. These differences can make it harder to connect during the times we need it most, so we must work to understand one another.
 
Men
 
 When facing loss, men generally put their feelings into action. They often experience their pain physically rather than emotionally. A man may tend to focus on goal-oriented tasks that require thinking and action. For this reason, he may put his efforts into planting a memorial garden or writing a eulogy.
 
In other cultures, men have been noted as using rituals to relieve the pain of anger or grief. Physical ceremonies such as shooting bows and arrows have been observed as outlets for grief and sorrow.
 
Activity can give men a sense of control and accomplishment as they experience grief. Even if he decides to share details of his loss with friends, it may likely be during shared activities such as fishing or sporting events.
 
Men will often react to the stress of grief by exhibiting behavior that scientist refer to as “fight-or-flight.” This type of reaction means that individuals who are confronted with stress will either react aggressively (“fight”), or withdraw or flee from the situation (“flight”).
 
A man will often allow himself to cry during grief, but he will usually do so alone, or even in the dark. This may lead other family members to believe that he is not grieving at all.
 
Women
 
In general, our society teaches women that it is acceptable for them to be open with their feelings. They will often feel a greater need to talk with others and share their emotions with supportive friends and family members.
 
In many cases, women seek non-judgmental listeners who are comfortable with a show of emotion. This provides them with an outlet for the grief they are feeling.
 
Women often respond to the stress of grief with a reaction called “tend-and-befriend.” This means that they may feel compelled to protect or nurture their children or others (“tend”) and seek out social contact and support from others (“befriend”). For this reason, women may have the desire to join a support group, while men, on the other hand, generally do not.
 
Even with our society’s ability to accept strong emotions and feelings from women, it is typical for our culture to criticize them as they deal with grief. All too often, women are said to be too sentimental or even ‘weak’ when they are seen expressing the painful emotions of grief. This causes some women to feel the need to suppress their feelings, or believe that they are failing to be ‘strong.’ However, it is often found that women are experiencing the grief- feeling the pain, while others around may be avoiding grief work.
 
 The above information was adapted from the book Hope is Like the Sun: Finding Hope and Healing After Miscarriage, Stillbirth, or Infant Death.    

 

 
 
 
 

Welcome to the HOPE Community!

Welcome  new and returning readers from our HOPE Newsletter! I know it’s been quiet for a very long time and we apologize for the long silence. We’ve had a lot of work going on “behind the scenes” creating our new blog and migrating some of the HopeXchange website to it’s new home here! There are still changes to come as we continue to make improvements.

We look forward to offering you more up to date information and posts on our new blog. We will continue to offer support to women and their families who are dealing with miscarriage, stillbirth and infant death. And more importantly, we look forward to the chance to interact with you, and allow you to communicate with one another.  This will be a true community and safe place to heal. Let’s make the most of this new opportunity and the support it can offer to each and every one of us.

I read this quote today and thought it fit this new group so well:

 “Grief and sadness knits two hearts in closer bonds than happiness ever can; and common sufferings are far stronger than common joys” ~ Alphonse de Lamartine, French Poet

Let us be strong together.